big data | October 17, 2013

Did Photocopiers Make Government More Open? David Eaves Explains In A New Keynote

David Eaves, a prominent speaker on open government and open data, kicked off the Code For America Summit earlier this month. He gave the audience a brief and compelling history of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)—something he says highly influenced the changes in government we see today. As a long-time Code for America advisor, Eaves was the perfect fit to MC the event and give opening speeches on each day of the conference. Every October the Code for America Summit brings speakers like Eaves together to discuss the past, present, and future of open government. Given that Eaves is considered to be a leader in the "open" movement, his takeaways resounded heavily for the audience.

What conditions need to be in place to promote a transparency in government laws? Eaves says that one narrative suggests that "political crisis creates an opportunity" to draft new legislation. Democrat John E. Moss, for example, was moved to author the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in America when he discovered how much money was being spent on Cold War defense efforts. He felt the public had a right to access this information and sponsored the act. After Richard Nixon got tied up in the Watergate Scandal, as another example, the American public was weary about what other information was being hidden from them—and the FOIA grew stronger. But, as he points out, only certain scandals prompted more open government.

So if political crisis isn't the sole driving force behind the advancement of government transparency, what is? Eaves argues that the Xerox photocopier played a big role. "It was called, by Fortune,  the single most important and most successful launch of a product in the history of the United States," he says. "[And] I don't think it's possible to have FOIA legislation unless you have photocopiers." People needed a way to distribute the documents they were able to access, so, Eaves argues that the combination of "technology + opportunity + people power" is the magic equation driving FOIA. Governments also need to look to this equation to make themselves more transparent today. And, he concludes, to make the government open by default and more efficient and responsible to the public it is meant to serve.

Eaves' expertise in the realm of technology and transparency makes him an ideal speaker for governments interested in open data and social media, but also any company or group confronting disruptive innovation, engaging in social marketing, social media, mobile marketing, and crowdsourcing. To book David Eaves as a speaker, contact The Lavin Agency.

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